Saturday, May 17, 2014

Scandal: expect the unexpected

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

Editor’s note: This piece is for anyone who wants to get in on the Scandal, without watching all three seasons.  Also, if you’re like me and you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, check this out.

“I’m the scandal!”
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) stunned herself, after coming to this conclusion, at the end of the season three finale of Scandal.

Despite Olivia’s epiphany, it’s still hard to pinpoint exactly who or what is the most scandalous, given the episode’s overall brutal callousness. There must be something amoral about loving a show that murders innocent characters without warning, and turns family members into founts of evil. (Warning: MAJOR Spoilers!)

The series focuses on Olivia, the beautiful, tempting, and covert mistress of the President of the United States, Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn).  The two star-crossed lovers met during Fitz’s first campaign.  Olivia’s discreet yet effective cunning in relations and communications aided his victory.

That illicit relationship could be the “scandal,” but typically Olivia doesn't create scandals—she repairs them. Introduced as the owner of an unobtrusive law firm, she manages high-class scandals and covers up everything from rape and murder to rigged presidential elections. Basically, Olivia cleans up the messes of the nation’s elite, before it spills out into the public.

From the sidelines, a mostly female audience feels Olivia can do no wrong even though she bears the stigma of an adulterous mistress.  And even though it is crystal clear Fitz will not leave his wife, for her, during his presidency.

Notwithstanding her love life, Olivia’s intellect, combined with persuasive and captivating russet eyes, equals success in almost every case.

Every episode introduces cases and scenarios that seem un-winnable. But Olivia manages to dig her clients out of their own grave and exonerate them, sometimes at the very last second, like right before the bomb goes off in every other TV show.

And the fact that she does so with believable evidence and surprising ease makes her all the more entrancing. Additionally, she dresses head to toe in gorgeous and luxurious fashion, radiating glamour and conviction with every move. Most male characters, in the series, harbor intense desire, or demonstrate the utmost respect, for her. She’s portrayed as a perfect catch, both physically and intellectually.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
In fact, Olivia is much more likable than Fitz’s racy but overbearing First Lady, Mellie (Bellamy Young). Rather than feeling sorry for Mellie, the First Lady’s egotism and malicious cynicism keeps young women viewers rooting for Olivia. Olivia is nicer, funnier, and an all-round more appealing female icon. Her sharp tongue and witty retorts alone are worth the price of admission.

Somewhat jarringly, season three steered away from the themes of one and two. Previously, Scandal fed the feminine appetite for juicy romance and flourishing legal ingenuity. In season three, the series grew darker and more violent.

This season seized attention in a solemn and severe way. It appealed to moral emotions. And it wasn’t a guilty pleasure. I left the season worrying seriously about our own national leadership.

Season three included terrorism and conspiracy, while attenuating the incessant Olivia-as-mistress plot. Almost every character took a turn in the spotlight. “Fighting fire with fire” became an underlying theme.

The finale tossed the audience directly into the eye of the season three storm. Fitz faced losing his reelection. That campaign provided most of the obstacles of the season three course.

Once again, Olivia worked as his campaign manager. For the first time, she began to fall from the pedestal of perfection. In this episode, the President’s party navigates the last few days before voting. Any event could greatly influence the outcome.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
 for NAACP Image Award
During this crucial period, Fitz fought to combat the sudden detonation of a terrorist's bomb. The bomb exploded during the funeral of a senator. Rival candidate, and previous Vice President Sally Langston (Katie Burton), the holy and haughty “woman of God,” attended the funeral and used the disaster as a way to gain momentum in the election. Her campaign manager dirtied her with ash and residue, then thrust her into a disoriented crowd. Public opinion swung swiftly in her favor.

Fitz, with SWAT in tow, followed a false path and ended up nowhere near the scene. They appeared inefficient, indifferent, and unresponsive.

An obvious defeat was best demonstrated through Olivia’s actions – a first true personal meltdown. She staggered into Chief-of-State Cyrus Beene’s (Jeff Perry) office, conceding, “You know I never give up. I never lose. But…we’re going to lose.” This beaten and empty Olivia Pope could be the most alarming visual in the episode.

To make matters worse, Olivia’s mother, the venomously sexy Maya Pope, planted the bomb. Maya (Khandi Alexander) ruled the season with her vehement vice. She murdered mercilessly, and spread vicious poison between Olivia and her father, Rowan “Eli” Pope (Joe Morton). Maya defined vile. Her bombing seemed almost tame compared to other acts.

Cool and collected Olivia disappeared when she returned to her office and found her father writhing and bloody on the floor.  Someone stabbed him, multiple times, in the chest.  Maya’s malevolence has no limit.

Eli survived surgery. Afterwards, father and daughter shared a heart-wrenching conversation acknowledging Olivia’s failures: romantically and professionally. He suggested she leave her current life, and start a new one somewhere else. Olivia agreed.

Olivia gave up not only on her lover’s campaign, but she gave up on herself too? She had not seemed like a person who would ever run away. I felt betrayed and somewhat annoyed by her weakness and misery.  Olivia takes control and saves the day. Where’s that Olivia Pope?

Meanwhile, the President and the First Family, despondent, took to the stage to acknowledge their inevitable defeat. The episode can’t get more depressing, and then it does.

During the speech, the President’s son quickly succumbed to a violent allergic reaction. He died. The autopsy uncovered a strain of bacterial meningitis. Someone injected it into him. Fitz assumed Maya was responsible for the death of his son, and with a vengeful mind demanded that she die as well.

But Olivia’s father—not her mother—was the true culprit.

Eli escaped from the hospital to a secret lair (why not) where Olivia’s friend and associate Harrison Wright
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
(Columbus Short) remained, captured and tortured by Eli’s cronies. Eli admitted, with disgusting pride, that he stole the disease-strain from government safe-keeping. He planned murder as an attempt to regain powerful footing in the Administration.

Eli then shot and killed Harrison, contacted the grief-stricken President Fitz, and promised to capture and kill Maya. The President responded by reinstating Eli as head of C.I.A., with one major priority: end Maya.

The President’s popularity surged along with the outpouring of sympathy for his lost child, just in time for election night. He won another four years as Commander-in-Chief.

The Republican Party celebrated throughout the White House - all around him. The episode ended with Fitz re-entering the Oval Office. He slumped onto the floor, and broke down. After a few minutes, he dialed Olivia’s number.

Olivia, however, boarded a private plane, ready to disappear completely, as suggested by her father. She glanced down to see Fitz’s name on her caller ID, and defiantly ignored the call.

Scandal ended without leaving a clue of what to expect in season four. The episode achieved all that makes a perfect season finale perfect.  


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